Saturday, 30 June 2012

Habits, their crucial role in our lives and ways to change our habits

There is an obvious connection between the right habits and success .We have come a long way from what has been said about habits in the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin .But many questions remain.Why some people  people change their" bad "habits while others fail to do so?Why we want to fall for temptations and do wrong things?Why are our desires disordered?What is the relationship between habits and mindsets?How habits are important tools for change at individual , corporate and societal levels?What is the role of will power in changing habits?What is the relationship of will power with neurology?Is there something in the  working of our brains which does not let our will power prevail over habits?How beliefs are created and what is the role of beliefs in habit creation and change?Do we believe in a free will?
                         I read my first book on habits called  "Seven Habits of highly effective people"by Stephen Covey  (which has sold  more than 25 million copies worldwide since its first publication in 1989 for the  first time in 1994,  then in 2003 and again  in 2007.It is one of the best  self help books on habits.But it suffers from two major omissions:
1.It fails to mention the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in  life.
2.It does not tell how to create  desired  habits in oneself  , in order to be effective .It is one thing to know what the seven habits of highly effective people are .  It is quite another to create these habits in self .This makes the book less practical  .Ever since my first reading of this book , I was on the look out of a book  , which could tell  the process of creating and retaining new habits , and  to eradicate the undesirable habits .                                 
                   Recently I came across   "The Power of Habit. . .Why we do what we do in life and business" by Charles Duhigg , a book published in 2012, and I decided to read it to find answer to the  questions  which Covey left unanswered in his book and some of the above questions regarding habits  which came up in my mind from time to time .This book   is a page turner and a riveting read .Duhigg has an interesting style of telling stories.I read this book of 372 pages  in  about ten hours .Duhigg is a reporter for New York Times , and the book has an obvious journalistic style .It is not a book written by an expert on applied  psychology or neurology.It is an entertaining and breezy reading .It succeeds in  sensitizing us about  the way we look at our actions , routines , habits and mindsets .It  has opened up several aspects of habits which I did not know .It describes the habits of individuals , of successful organizations and of societies as also the neurology of free will .
                                            Some Habits can emerge without our permission and continue.We can also create new habits by putting together a cue/trigger/spark / craving , a routine and a reward(The Habit Loop).Duhigg  says that we cannot extinguish or eradicate a bad habit . we can only change/replace it with a new habit.He says that old habits don't die.Even if we change our habits , old habits still exist in the neural pathways of our  brain but remain dormant to new habit ."If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine and your odds of success go up automatically when you commit to changing as a part of a group.Belief is essential and it grows out of  a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people."He gives the example of how people with certain brain damage could still perform certain tasks through the power of habits
                                           But my personal experiences contradict what Duhigg says .Golden Rule of habit change i.e. substitution is not true , at least not always true.I was a "chain smoker" for about 20 years   from 1973 to 1993 .I decided to give up smoking cigarettes on march 13, 1993 .At the time of giving up , I was smoking , on an average , forty cigarettes a day .Here is how I gave up the smoking :
1.A  doctor friend of mine asked me to get X rays of the chest taken .X-rays report indicated some affected portion of the lungs .It was a warning signal of breathing difficulties in future .
2.I began to visualize smoking as equivalent of consuming  poisonous gases , and committing slow suicide .I had started this visualization for about a month before I actually gave up .
3.I decided to kill the desire to smoke , focusing on very little pleasure it was giving and looking at it as a self imposed habit deserving to be eradicated .I reflected on this daily for about a month before the day of actual quitting .This was reinforced by my recitation of a stanza from Bhagwat Geeta relating to the killing of desires.
4.I had realized that reducing smoking by degrees , by reducing the number of cigarettes smoked daily , will not work .I had tried it earlier and failed.The habit had to be killed in one go .
I must share that there were no with drawl symptoms , no craving for a substitute , no looking back .It is now more than 19 years and I think , my habit of smoking is extinguished .This is contrary to what "science of habit" cited by Duhigg have us to believe .
                               The first major premise of Duhigg that you can can  change an old habit only by substituting it by a new one , is not really born out by my experience , and I am inclined to disagree with ,notwithstanding the evidence that neural pathways of old habit remain in the brain .                           

              Duhigg analyses  the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous   as a" group therapy".The 12 steps of AA are as below(for convenience):
                                                              The 12 Steps 
        Step1- We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives  had become unmanageable
Step2- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Step3- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
Step4- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Step5- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Step6- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Step7- Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
Step8- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
Step9- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
Step10- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
Step11- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out
Step12- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
                         Duhigg recounts how when researchers asked recovering alcoholics what made their new habits take hold so that they were able to stay sober even under the direst of circumstances, their answer was always the same :God.It reflects the view that humans are material and spiritual beings.Reject the latter and you end up treating men and women  in controlled experiments the way you treat mice .But being subjects and not only objects,  humans have their own idea of what is going on inside them .Duhigg and the researchers that he quotes tweak the spiritual out and replace it with belief in them selves.While AA seems alcoholism as  a three fold "disease" physical , mental and spiritual , Duhigg admits to the first two ."A system of meetings and companionship that strives to offer as much escape, distraction and catharsis as a Friday night bender." On the other hand , in AA philosophy ,"Not Drinking" is only first in AA in a process leading to "Spiritual awakening".
While step 3 deals with will , the step 4 deals with making a moral inventory of them selves.It is not only the circumstantial habits o surrounding their drinking but character and emotional habits that cause the harm that they  do to them selves and to others.In step 5 , alcoholics  admit their  wrongs and develop exterior habits of self examination and admission of wrongs to other human beings  .At the same time , they  acquire interior habits or character traits such as  honesty , humility and forgiveness.They proceed from spiritual awakening which transforms the prescriptions and concerns which drive our old habits .They  try to practice these new habits daily in all they  do and through repeated action, the traits are generally ingrained in their minds and brains and develop into habitual dispositions .Right thinking , right feeling and right action slowly become second nature to them .This is the understanding of the habit formation that underlies the 12 steps of AA and is distilled in the phrase"practice these principles."
 AA is  nurturing such a fruitful tradition of coperation between science , religion and the spiritual , a tradition Chrles Duhigg has chosen not to follow.Duhigg tries to fit 12 steps of AA by bending them out of shape  so that they will fit into his "habit loop" scheme of Cue , routine and reward. 
           The mind can shape the brain , and modify behaviour, habits included.   The book  describes the biology of habit but leaves out morality and spirituality of habits , ostensibly in the name of science.It goes into the moral consequences of our habits but avoids going into the moral , emotional and spiritual origins of our habits .It says that we need to have beliefs but does not say what we are supposed to believe in.Is it God or power of visualization?It describes how habits work on and shape us and also how we shape our habits .It is in shaping of habits that we get  an unclear and somewhat incomplete picture.It also talks very little about habit shaping skills .Excluding morality and spirituality in the name of science , is the second major weakness of the Duhigg's book.
                       If you want to realize the vision you desire for your self ,you need to create habits to match your vision .The idea of keeping a journal of one's keystone habits helps keep one mindful of the source of one's actions.The power of goal setting  by simply writing things down is demonstrated.
                   Habits play an important role in changing the culture of an organization .Duhigg gives an example of Star bucks habits.The book then goes on to describe how habits are responsible for the social movements , like the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement led by Rosa Parks.While it is difficult to fully agree that social movements are caused by habits , it may be relevant to concede some role for habits in mass movements.In order to really take hold and spread, the movement must be  guided by an effective leader who lays down new habits for the movement's adherents in a way that allows them to gain  a sense of identity.The role of leadership in the context of habit formation of followers and self is relevant .But support to a social movement does not come out of habits of people who support such movements.It seems that Duhigg has used his habit model as a hammer and every story he tells is a nail.Developing a "model" and trying to explain every situation according to that model , is another weakness of the book .
                                         Duhigg rightly draws our attention to the fact that habits can be manipulated by others.The book is a manual for corporate mind control.It tells how  corporates  manipulate our habits and can  use this information  for dark purposes. The others may like to develop and encourage us to have certain habits .This is the dark side of habits practiced , among others , by the advertising firms and marketers.They wield the power of habit to manipulate the consumers and others .Corporate retail houses can act like Big Brother , intruding the privacy of common customers or individuals .The dark over lords (Corporates)know this already .I am glad we  ordinary  people  too get to know it now .The book makes us aware of our buying habits.It is a powerful insight.
                                   The book gives two new concepts of small words  and weak ties .Small words are small changes leveraged in the present so that bigger changes can be enacted later on .But then , why put effort to maintain will power when you can step back to examine the tiny impulses that drive your desires and behaviours.Weak ties are described in the context of movements .Weak ties are the rational bonds between the people .People you may know of but not very well(Friends of friends).Movements are born and political campaigns are won using these weak ties.It remind us of the bridging social capital described by Robert Putnam in his book "Bowling Alone".There is a lot of weight in what Duigg says on the important role of weak ties.
                                The book ignores or poorly covers the following areas:
1.Role of past experiences and social expectations in habit formation .
2.Depression and other emotional issues that drive an addiction in a person.
3.Examples of successful self help people or groups.Self help by individuals and also by groups ,  can result in major changes in habits as in life .
4. Need for empathy , caring and  love as a type of reward in habit formation .The self respect and guidance from well wishers in a positive environment .
5. People change when they embrace values more important to them than the rewards of a self destructive habit .(Why people change by Allen Wheelis). 
6.The emotional intelligence that allows one to develop the will power for more positive feedback loops is poorly explored.
 It seems that the book has good stories but poor guidance.
 Despite all its"flaws" and weaknesses,I have enjoyed reading this book .I am quite impressed by the 12 steps approach followed by Alcoholics Anonymous(AA), especially making  moral inventory , will power,prayer , meditation and spiritual awakening .I am fascinated by the role of  habits, described by Duigg in organizations , social movements and leadership at different levels.Manipulation of ordinary individuals through habits and mind contorl by the Corporates , is a new insight.The importance of weak ties for leaders , is a very important area introduced by Duigg to his readers .
Despite my strong disagreements with some of the major areas of Duhigg's book , I recommend you to read this fascinating book , for the reason that it compellingly  provokes you to think and find your own solutions .
                          Your habits are what you choose them to be.



Saturday, 23 June 2012

Clarity , Commitment and Freedom in Co-creating Shared Vision, and Role of Leadership

 When more than one person decide to co-create a shared vision ,they agree to forego a part of their freedom and a part of personal vision, and then evolve  a shared vision which is different  from each of the personal visions .The shared vision  has clarity  and commitment from all  concerned and  evolves gradually out of conversation and inquiry.The  shared vision has a very high chance of being realised , and takes the group/organization  nearer to its purpose, while preserving the core values.Commitment  of every body releases lot of energy in the organization.
                                This issue of how to co-create a shared vision among forty four thousand students  and about three thousand teachers and other employees  of City Montessori School, Lucknow  came up when the Management  of the school decided to adopt the "Green Schools Programme" of the Centre for Science and Environment(CSE) , New Delhi.The programme was launched on 20th June , 2012 in Lucknow when a workshop on" Environment and Energy" was organized by the school  in the presence experts on environment , Principals ,Vice Principals , other  key functionaries and government officials .
What can schools do in a  situation when the crisis of global warming is real and impending , when ground water is going down at an alarming rate , when people in general are using more and more electricity in an inefficient manner?There can be an active participation  between schools and community not only for  awareness and attitude building but also by  active involvement of   teachers ,students and members of the community."Green Schools Programme" of Centre for Science and environment(CSE) gives a framework  about participation of schools in community/neighborhood to create awareness, attitudes and to take concrete action through schools to conserve environment.The byproducts are creation of a learning organization, with unique opportunities to develop interpersonal and leadership skills( for students and teachers) , which are essential for success in life.
                                               As a basic idea for developing a shared vision, it was proposed to make  Lucknow  city(in State of UP, India) the most clean , green, pollution free and environment friendly city in the State,  create history and to organize every year an international event  on environment.Principals  were asked  bless and support this noble project, being  the Leaders and the Prime Movers.
The  process of building shared vision  is emerging as a distinct  discipline in leadership literature.Peter M . Senge in his book "The Fifth Discipline" has dealt with this issue of Shared Vision in  great details.I have used some of his recommendations in what follows.
A shared vision is the first step in working together.It creates a common identity.People have loyalty  to a shared vision .Only then , petty differences and pettiness disappear.Building or "co-creating" a shared vision among all the members of an organization  must be seen as an essential element of  of the daily work of leaders.
                                                     Shared vision is different from the personal vision of the leader at the top.Every person has a personal vision .But it is not possible to develop a shared vision by a command from the top.We cannot even convince people to take a long term view, but if people , in their freedom  desire  to have a vision , no one can stop them. We should not try to convince people.We should share and listen.Shared Vision  is based on freedom , commitment and clarity of  every individual.It involves  two things:
1.A desire to be connected to an important and larger purpose.
2.A desire to be connected and bonded to one another, with genuine respect for one another and for each others' views.                                                                                                              Development of shared vision requires systems thinking.People must believe that they have shaped their current reality and they can shape their future.But most people  in real life do not actually believe that they create their own reality.Therefore , they can not co-create a shared vision .Only by encouraging their belief in  systems thinking and in themselves , we can enable them to create a shared vision.Every one should feel fully responsible for making vision happen.Everyone should have commitment and not mere compliance.Everyone should not only accept but truly want.                                                          No one knows how to realize   vision, how to get there . But the goal is there.Envisioning a shared vision  is a joint  inquiry into the future we seek to create.This inquiry helps the vision to evolve.This does not mean that we do not need advocacy .We need strong advocacy for our ideas but only  accompanied  with inquiry.Shared vision fosters experimentation and  requires skills of reflection and inquiry.Process of Envisioning then becomes an inquiry process.Leaders must create a climate of inquiry, openness  encouragement and sharing.They should not hesitate to ask for support of all in building a vision.They should encourage openness and willingness  to entertain a diversity of ideas.They should listen to what the organization is trying to say.The reinforcing process of increasing clarity , enthusiasm,communication and commitment  spreads vision .This process should be adopted.Leader should reinforce by celebrating early successes in pursuing the vision .
                                              One of the obstacles in creating a shared vision is gap between vision and reality.Apparent difficulties can breed cynicism and result in discouragement.This requires  leaders to develop  capacity  and mastery of people to 'hold creative tension.Personal mastery is the bed rock for developing shared vision  and fosters sustained commitment to lofty vision.  .People must be encouraged and supported to achieve personal mastery.Another obstacle to  shared envisioning is diversity of views, conflicts and increasing polarization.A leader must harmonize diversity and conflicts.
                                           Writing a vision statement  can be a first step in building a shared vision but it should be  open  to complete change , if need be.A short paper can be presented for discussion.Rather than selling the vision to people , leaders should "enroll "people.Let others also believe themselves to be  messengers.Let each person add something new.
                                                       Leader and teams  must  give time for shared vision to emerge.Let there be no great urgency. Let them have an ongoing conversation, listen to each other's dreams and ideas.Leader and teams should develop their skills in conversation, reflection and inquiry.He /She must  not give speeches about vision but solve day to day problems with vision in mind .He/She  needs to focus less time and effort in fighting crises and managing current reality, or break off those pursuing the new vision  from those responsible for handling  current reality.
                                                          As far as possible , vision should  be positive .Negative visions like anti-corruption , anti-war . anti-drugs and anti-pollution  carry a message of powerlessness. The process needs to be anchored  in three governing ideas of purpose , values and vision .
                                           The above  discipline of co-creating shared vision can help us in  developing shared visions for inter-personal relationships ,partnerships, teams , groups , organizations, schools  and communities . The results, to my mind , can be  a great in terms of material achievements and in  emotional and spiritual satisfaction .

Friday, 15 June 2012

Understanding the World , Organizations,Transformations , Leadership and Life in terms of Systems

When you enter the forest , what do you see?Do you see trees one after the other  coming your way? Or do you see the system called forest , with biodiversity , wildlife and an Eco- system?The former is a reductionist way of thinking while the latter is a systems way of thinking .Systems view is a broad overview and enables us to integrate things together.It is not possible to be a change agent(or a change leader)  without learning to think in systems.A system is more than the sum of its  its parts.System behavior reveals itself  as a series of events  over time.System structure is the source of system behavior.But  the word  system  has been used very loosely , and means different things to different people .It is very useful to understand systems and their dynamics in making correct decisions in work  as well as in  personal and community life .Between thinking in terms of persons and events(details) , and thinking in terms of systems(integration) , which one is the correct way ?"I do not think that the systems way of seeing is better than the reductionist way of thinking .I think , it's complementary, and therefore revealing", says Donella.                                                                 
                   Literature on change management makes a mention of   systems and subsystems.When we see an organization as a system  and  have a vision to transform it , its subsystems like its organizational structure  design subsystem, its Human Resource (HR) subsystem , its Information Flow subsystem and Strategic Planning Process subsystem  need to be studied and aligned with its vision for transformation.HR system comprises performance evaluation/appraisal subsystem ,compensation decision subsystem,promotion decision subsystem , and recruitment and hiring subsystems.Do all these subsystems support the transformations?                                                                                                                                                                                     A change in a system may require  removal of organizational barriers(Leading Change : John P. Kotter; Harvard University Press, 1996.Page103).There are many ways  in which organizational structure acts as a barrier to improvement.Organizational structure may fragment resources and authority/responsibility in such a way that delivering well any new product is nearly impossible.Similarly , organizational arrangements may  dis-empower the people and undermine the vision .Independent silos may not communicate and thus slow everything down.Also , layers of middle level managers  may second guess and criticise the lower employees and huge staff groups at corporate head quarters are  expensive     and constantly initiate  costly procedures and  programmes.Organizational structure may be customer unfocused.All these reasons may call for a change in the design of the system or organization .
                          "Thinking in systems , A Primer"  by Donella H. Meadows (1941-2001) was published posthumously  by sustainability Institute and edited by  Diana Wright.Donella completed the draft of the book in 1993 , died in 2001, but the book was published in 2008 only.The book  expands our mind and helps us to see, understand and interact with  our complex  world and take better decisions. Donella was one of  the world's foremost systems analysts and was the lead author of  the international bestseller "Limits to Growth".I became interested in systems dynamics and  analysis after reading  "The fifth discipline" by Peter M . Senge."Thinking in Systems" is a very good book  for introducing us to the basics  systems analysis.It is different from self help books.While it can be useful in all areas of life , it can be especially useful in policy making , government , business, and ecology.Systems analysis is a subject based on mathematical equations  and  extensive use of computers to simulate systems  , but Donella has made it simple to understand."Systems thinking transcends disciplines and cultures and,when it is done right, it overreaches history as well.. . . .There is much more to systems thinking than is presented here, for you to discover if you are interested."
                                             Highly functional systems have three  characteristics of resilience,self-organization and hierarchy. The most important part of the book relates  to discovering the  leverage points of a system and  using  these  to change the systems.Leverage points are places in the system  where a small change could lead to  a large shift in behavior.Donella has identified  12 such leverage points:
1.Transcend Paradigms:
Be and remain unattached to paradigms, stay flexible and realise that no paradigm is "true".There is no need to cling to any paradigm.
2.Change Paradigms:
To totally transform a system , intervene into it at the level of paradigm.Challenge the  old paradigm, as recommended by Thomas Kuhn in his book" Structure of Scientific Revolutions".Keep  pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm.Build a new paradigm, a new way of seeing , a new model of the system.Keep speaking and acting, loudly and with confidence from the new paradigm.Insert people with new paradigm  in places of public visibility and power.Work with active change agents and with vast middle ground of people with open mind.
Look at the goals of the entire system as well as the goals of the parts of the system.What whole system goals are you pursuing?You may like to change the system's goal and take up a new direction and a new goal.Articulating , repeating , standing up for , insisting upon a new system goal , is one of the strongest leverage point to change the system.
4.Self organization of system's structure:
Any system that can not self-evolve, that scorns experimentation and wipes out innovation , is doomed and needs change.We can change such a system by encouraging experimentation , variability and diversity.
Rules define the scope , boundaries and degrees of freedom of a system .They are high leverage points and have power .Find out who has the power to change or write or make   the rules, who  has the power to interpret the rules. in case of laws, such power is vested in  the Legislature and Courts respectively.Incentives, punishments and constraints are also rules , though these are progressively weaker rules.To change the system , we need to pay attention to the rules as well as to rule makers.We need to restructure the rules  and imagine what the behaviour of the system would be under the restructured rules.This can result in a fundamental change in the system .
6.Information flows:
Missing information flows is one of the most common causes of system malfunction.Adding, restoring  information or delivering feedback to a place where it was not going before  , can be a powerful intervention.It is important that the missing feedback be restored to the right place and in compelling form.Missing feedback loops ensure accountability of decision makers.
7.Reinforcing feedback loops:
Reinforcing feedback loop is self-reinforcing.If allowed to go unchecked, a reinforcing loop drives system behavior in one direction and ultimately destroys itself if it runs its course.
Like soil will erode away to bedrock.Sooner or later , bed rock will crumble into new soil.This is a self-correcting balancing loop.An alternative is to have an intervention to reduce the self multiplying power of a reinforcing loop- slowing its growth.This  is a more powerful leverage point than strengthening  the balancing loops and far more preferable  than letting the reinforcing loop run, like people stop overgrazing, put up check dams, plant trees and stop the erosion .So reduce the gain around a reinforcing loop and slow the growth to change the system.
8.Balancing feedback loops:
Parts of system relating to information and control are the parts where more leverage can be found.For example, markets are the balancing feedback systems.Price is the central piece of information .To keep it accurate as per feedback power of market signals, you need anti-trust laws, truth in advertising law,the removal of perverse subsidies and other ways of levelling market playing field.This will ensure free, full unbiased flow of information.To improve a system's self- correcting abilities, we need to strengthen balancing feedback controls.For example , we need to provide protection for whistle blowers, we need to impose impact fees, pollution taxes and performance bonds to recapture the externalised public costs of private benefits.
Delay length is a high leverage point, e.g. construction time of a major project.Also growth rates are high up on leverage points.Slowing down a growth rate   is a greater leverage point  than faster technological development.Changing delays or growth rates in the right direction  can change systems in a big way.
10.Physical Structures:
Physical structure is responsible for many distortions in the system .For example , road system is responsible for  air pollution and community delays .Rebuilding of physical structures  is slowest and most expensive kind of change in a system.So it is rarely a leverage point.But when it is , leverage point is in the design.
Another leverage is in understanding the  limitations and bottlenecks  of the physical structure , using it with maximum efficiency and refraining from  straining its capacity through fluctuations and expansions.
Stocks that are big relative to their flows are called Buffer.Buffers have stabilizing power.There is leverage , sometimes magical , in changing the size of buffers.But buffers are usually physical entities.(like storage capacity of a dam) and are not easy to change.Buffers are not very high on the list of leverage points.
12.Numbers , parameters and details:
Numbers , the size of flows, annual deficits,minimum wages, budget allocations, number of employees fired and other such details take away 99 percent of our attention  but there is not a lot of leverage in them .These numbers are important in the short term and to the individual who is standing directly in the flow.But changing them rarely changes the system.But critical parameters can be  leverage points.Like system goals are parameters that can make big differences. Mostly, the numbers are not  worth the sweat  put into them , like how much rent to charge or pay on a building .Most systems have evolved  or are designed to stay far out of range of critical parameters.Thought leaders across the globe  regard the systems- thinking skills  critical for  understanding and solving the problems of 21st- century life.
                                             Some system structures  produce common patterns of problematic behavior called archetypes.Such archetypal structures need to be changed.These archetypes are system traps.Theses can be escaped by suitable actions like reformulating the goals .Donella describes eight such traps and also the way out from each of them.
                                             The author seems to have a leftist political stance when she says:"The power of big industry calls for the power of big government to hold it in check;a global economy makes global regulators necessary.One of the weaknesses of the book  seems to be  that  some of the leverage points lean heavily towards justification of  pet liberal causes.
                                                  The most important "systems wisdom" that I got from Donella is :"Defy the Disciplines".Learn from economists, chemists ,psychologists , theologians  , and so on .To see a systems whole , be more than "inter-disciplinary".Encourage the representatives from  different disciplines to be more committed to solving the problem  at hand than to being academically correct.They should be willing to be taught by each other and by the system."It can be done.It's very exciting when it happens."
                                              "One of my purposes is to make you interested (in systems thinking)", says Donella. As far as I am concerned , Donella has fully succeeded in achieving her purpose.You need to read this book , and I have a reason to believe that you will agree .

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Caring (and not obedience to principles ) is the Foundation of Morality

The subject of ethics and morality has always baffled me .There are layers and layers of the subject .I had decided not to write on this subject till I thought I had some fair degree of understanding .But  when I read this deeply original book called "Caring . . A feminine approach to ethics and moral education " by Nel Noddings ,I decided to review my decision .It is a challenging and  original  book to read .Its first edition was published in 1984 and second  in 2003.The book has two parts :Philosophy of ethics and Education and teaching.Since I was motivated to read this book mainly for its  exposition  of ethics , I will not dwell on the parts that deal with education.That is not to under estimate  the importance of its contribution in the field of education  where caring can play a crucial part.
                                                      Nel Noddings is Lee Jacks Professor of Education, Emerita , Stanford University.She has developed philosophical argument for an ethics based on natural caring.The book is a part of a revolution that centers moral thought on concrete caring relationships , instead of abstract , universal concepts and principles like truth and justice.In the book,I found a new paradigm that I could understand in a concrete way , rather than in terms of abstract principles .It allows us  to adopt a new way of looking at the world and at being in the world.It proposes and  advocates ethics of caring ,  supremacy  of  caring relationships  over  principles, totally different from the  ethics of principles."Caring is the foundation of and not a mere manifestation of morality." It rejects ethics of principles as ambiguous and unstable.Whenever there is a principle , there is implied its exception and too often, principles function to separate us from each other.We may become dangerously self righteous when we perceive ourselves as holding a precious principle not held by the other.Ethics of caring supports while the ethics of principles goes against unity and oneness.
Ethics has so far been guided by Logos , the masculine spirit whereas the more natural and perhaps stronger approach would be through Eros , the feminine spirit".Men  and women think about caring differently.The father might sacrifice his own child in fulfilling a principle .The mother might sacrifice any principle to preserve her child .The book puts forth  ethics from feminine perspective.It also seems to advocate a view that women are intuitively non- competitive and have less interest in power and more in  being caring , supporting and cooperating and that , possibly a woman should remain in touch with her deep , feminine psychological structure and bring its great strength into public world of work .                                                 What is caring?It is not an easy question to answer.There are two parties of the relation  ."one -caring" and "cared-for".Let us consider  four  types of situations and ask questions to understand what it means to be caring.
1. I think of a person often and worry about her.I am in a burdened mental state.Does it mean I care about her?(The person could be  mother or some relation or  friend).Is externally observable action necessary for caring?
2.I do not see her more often because I have so much to do , long working hours , kids and a spouse who need my companionship.I am in a conflict of caring.But does it mean I care for her?When we are overwhelmed by the responsibilities and duties of the task of caring, we run the risk of caring.
3. I pay the bills to meet her expenditure but there are others who can provide company.Does it mean that I care for her?We do not say that a person cares if he acts routinely according to some fixed rule , like paying the bills.
4.Then ,there is a possibility of "institutional caring", known as the third person view of caring .The first person view is of the personal one-caring .The second person view is of  caring as per the expectation of the cared-for.Is it caring when we send a person to an old age home or a similar institution?
None of  of these indicates that I care .Indeed , caring is very complex, intricate and subjective.Caring is a thought , feeling , emotion , attitude and an observable action , all rolled in one.
                                                                    I care when the other's reality becomes a real possibility for me.I act to actualize her dream , not to project my own reality onto her.I do not try to motivate , reward or manipulate her to my view point because I have data or logic to support me. I begin to see the reality from her eyes.I will      not   be disappointed in her or in myself  if she does not come up to my     reality."Apprehending the other's reality , feeling what she feels as nearly as possible , is the essential part of caring from the point of view of the one -caring.For if I take on other's reality as possibility and begin to feel its reality,I feel also that I must act accordingly.;that is , I am impelled to act as though in my own behalf, but in behalf of the other.This feeling that I must act , may or may not be sustained.I must make a commitment to act.The commitment to act in behalf of the cared for, a continued interest in his reality throughout the appropriate time span , and the continual renewal of commitment over this span of time are the essential elements of caring from the inner view."
When I care , there is a motivational shift.My motivational energy flows towards the cared for.I allow my motive energy to be shared.I put it at the service of the other.In extreme form , I live for others( like a mother for children)."To care for another person ,in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself" writes Milton Mayeroff in book "On caring" (New york , Harper Row. page1).
For the "cared-for" attitude of "one-caring" is important.Whether the act is performed generously or grudgingly , is important.One can learn to care and to be cared for.As I care for others and am cared for by them,I become able to care for myself.Cared-for gives the gift of responsiveness and shares experiences with the one-caring.There is a risk of feeling guilty when I care.The risk of guilt is present in  all caring.                                                                                                                                   The author rejects the notion of universal caring-that is -caring for every one.It is impossible to actualize.It leads to abstraction and mere talk of caring.In order to care adequately for anyone,we must give up romantic notions of  caring for  every one.Masculine ethic of universal love is illusion .Some , in terrible disillusion, kill to establish the very principles which should have entreated them not to kill.Thus are lost both persons and principles.
                                                        Caring need not be accompanied by love.(agapism or obligatory love.)" But an act of ethic locates morality in the pre-act consciousness of the one-caring.Yet it is not a form of agapism.There is no command to love.
                                                       The book tries to suggest how to develop communities that will support and not destroy caring relations.We need to acquire skills and competence  in care taking.Three great means of the ethical ideal and to maintain and enhance caring are;
Dialogue is talking ,listening ,to understand, to meet the other and to care .
Practice is the celebration of everyday life.It contributes to the maintenance of the ethical ideal.Maintaining as ones caring through a general strengthening of self image.If I find something delightful , I share it with cared-for.These could be stories,puzzles , poems,songs or films.It is also talking about anxiety.Confirmation takes place when we attribute the best possible motive to the cared- for, consonant with reality.It needs sensitivity and open communication.
                                                                As a philosophical question , we can ask what is the aim of life .Is it to find happiness?Or is it to find perfection in the sense of preparation for another life?The author says neither of the above is the aim of life .She says that the aim of life is to care and to be cared for."We have seen in this century sufficient horror induced in the name of obedience.we need not have respect or obedience for rules or law but for contribution to the maintenance of caring .Obedience to law is simply not a reliable guide to moral behaviour.There is no escape from the requirement of caring for one who would be moral."
                                                               I must confess that this book has deeply changed my concept of ethics and living .I am aware that there are hundreds of questions still to be answered when we accept and adopt the ethics of caring ,still I am of the view that  this  perspective  is a  great step forward in our understanding of morality . It has the seeds of making our world much better and humane than the ethics of principles and obedience can ever achieve .In this sense , this book succeeds in causing a revolutionary shift in our thoughts , behaviour and life .I recommend that every thinking person must read this book .